Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the treatment of the woman at the heart of the Belfast rape trial was “pretty appalling and unfortunate”.

Speaking at an Easter Sunday event in Dublin, she said the whole system of legal protections for complainants “needs to be fixed”.

“You are left with a completely unsatisfactory situation where the person raising the complaint has very limited, in this jurisdiction, access to legal advice and an ability to cross-examine and virtually none in the North. That needs to be fixed,” she said.

Ms McDonald said that, in terms of the justice system in the North, turning cases such as this into a salacious, almost circus-like atmosphere is unfortunate.

“The idea that people are named, I know the identity of the complainant is protected but even the accused being named, allowing so much access to the media and to the general public contributes to further trauma and does not afford the complainant or the accused persons the atmosphere in which good justice should work out,” she said.

Ms McDonald said it is correct that the bar is high to prove when a rape has taken place.

“That is as it should be but people bringing a complaint are immediately disadvantaged and certainly feel disadvantaged and feel the proceedings are adversarial, feel that they are on trial rather than the accused person,” she said.

“All of that needs to be fixed. I am saying all of that with absolute respect for the verdict that the jury has arrived at. We need to be careful not to be going down a very dangerous route of second-guessing jury verdicts but at the same time, I think it was obvious to everyone that the way in which that trial proceeded was pretty appalling.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said Ireland’s sex education system must address “modern realities”.

He was speaking after the dangers of children having access to pornography at a young age was highlighted in the context of the trial and how young men view women and the issue of consent.

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